Edge of Darkness
Did you know that in the censored-for-TV version of The Long Kiss Goodnight, the movie has been edited so much that it’s no longer clear that Geena Davis’ character is a government assassin with amnesia? In the way the film plays in the version that airs on Sunday mornings on TNT, the suggestion is that Davis is actually a soccer mom whose family is attacked by random killers and she takes her revenge. It takes the deliberate ludicrousness out of the premise (in the theatrical version, Davis’ soccer mom persona is a cover that she created) and makes it a straight revenge-action film, without the context of being an over-the-top parody.
Conversely, Martin Campbell’s Edge of Darkness, an adaptation of his own 25-year-old 5 hour British miniseries, leaves too much in. The film starring Mel Gibson takes almost the reverse tack of the The Long Kiss Goodnight’s TNT editors*, trying to mush in as much plot as possible into under 2 hours. This approach in Edge of Darkness results in characters like Ray Winstone’s shady character, a combination of PR guru and contract killer, showing up at 15 minute intervals to mumbly give us necessary exposition. He represents both the screenwriter’s desperate attempt at coherence and the audience’s confusion; especially as he keeps delivering the line, “it’s my job to keep it convoluted.”
So overstuffed with story is Edge of Darkness that it has to rely on clichés to fill in the blanks for us. Mel Gibson’s Boston cop is a workaholic (among his other former ‘holics, which must include maintaining his regional accent), who loves his daughter to the point that — after she’s brutally murdered while standing next to him — he still has angelic hallucinations of her throughout the film, establishing an emotional connection and pandering to the saps in the audience**. But everything we learn about Gibson belies this information. He’s repeatedly called on the carpet for not ever visiting her and not being there for her as a child. He’s doesn’t know what she does for a living, let alone where she works. Only Gibson’s surprised when it turns out there’s a huge conspiracy involving nuclear weapons, senators, and conspirators controlling the media. The viewer has already seen plenty of this sort of thing in real life.
The upper echelon government conspiracy involving weapons contracts is such a standard story by now, that just 9 months ago, there was another British mini-series that was crammed into 2 hours and given the big studio movie stamp, State of Play. SOP handled the situation far better than Edge of Darkness, before SOP crumbled into confusion and unnecessary twists near the conclusion. The main difference was that State of Play had interesting characters and performances, probably tailored to fit stars Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams, and Jason Bateman, but enticing viewers nonetheless. Edge of Darkness has Mel doing his disconnected revenge shtick, stiffly walking with his hands glued to his sides, going through the motions to the point that the amusement is reduced to the goofy ways he attacks his foes. Once he pours a bottle of milk over someone’s head. Only Danny Huston’s fey villain brings any flavor to the proceedings; especially as he minces his way through a scene in a thin Oriental bathrobe.
These minimal distractions are at odds with what Martin Campbell seemed to be trying to accomplish. That is, Stuart Baird’s effective shock cut editing***, which overemphasizes the bodies flying during shoot-outs, and the overall message of the film which appears to be, “get over yourself already.” The tough, nihilistic tone has nothing to do with the shameless daughter interactions (even resorting to camcorder remembrances on the beach). Proving that when you take away the glue of character and nuance in a complicated story for the sake of brevity, you’re just left with disconnected parts that could be stapled onto any old generic thriller. In fact it has been, as Edge of Darkness has a heavy stylistic and tonal similarity with last year’s Law Abiding Citizen. This isn’t just because both films involve children being killed and their parents taking revenge, but the way that dramatic and logical weaknesses are smoothed over with loud, graphic violence to distract the audience. While the mayhem is supposed to give us a hint at how rushed and desperate the main characters are, it’s clear that the desperation stems from behind the camera instead.
* Though they might have just aired the airplane version. I once saw an airplane-cut of Get Shorty where the comedic scene of a plane blowing up was changed with not-so-subtle voiceover and editing to be a train blowing up.
** There’s no mention made of a mother or ex-wife, so our assumption is the standard cop answer that she was tired of the long hours and left him, or she died of cancer, or male pattern baldness, or maybe it was just death by chocolate. It’s odd in a police procedural with family implications to completely ignore the mother’s existence, but that loose end was likely one of the first things to get trimmed.
*** Baird is often called in at the last minute to fix movies that the studio has deemed “unfixable,” and while he gives energy to some of the action sequences, he has no luck clearing up the murky motives of characters like Gibson’s daughter’s boyfriend, or Jay O. Sanders appearance as Gibson’s cop friend, who might as well have had “I’m a villain!” tattooed on his knuckles.